Thornton Wilder: New Perspectives

The twenty essays in Thornton Wilder: New Perspectives touch on universal themes in a wide variety of Wilder’s works, both famous and lesser-known. All but one of these essays began as papers presented at the 2008 International Wilder Conference and have since been expanded and revised better to support their claims.

The diversity of this collection is reflected in the varied credentials of the contributors – a theater director, an actress, a classics scholar, a musicologist, a film historian, and three translators of Wilder’s work – and in the implication that this range of critical perspectives is necessary to encompass the full range of Wilder’s achievements and talents. The work of these contributors from the United States and abroad has produced several “firsts”: the first article to employ “queer theory” in reading Our Town; the first article on Wilder’s screenplay for Hitchcock film Shadow of a Doubt; the first article on Wilder’s adaptation of A Doll’s House (the original production of which was directed by Jed Harris and starred Ruth Gordon, and ran on Broadway with Our Town); the first article on Wilder’s unfinished adaptation of the Restoration comedy The Beaux’ Stratagem by George Farquhar (subsequently completed by Ken Ludwig and premiered at Washington’s Shakespeare Theatre Company in 2006); the first article on Wilder’s libretto for the Paul Hindemith – composed opera version of Wilder’s one-act play The Long Christmas Dinner; and the first articles on the reception of Wilder in Italy and Japan.

The essays are arranged into five sections: “The Novels,” “Major Plays,” “Adaptations,” “Lesser-Known Works,” and “The View from Abroad.”


Jackson R. Bryer and Lincoln Konkle

Thornton Niven Wilder: A Chronology

Thornton Wilder for the Twenty-First Century
Tappan Wilder

The Novels
Part of the Alphabet: Wilder as Novelist
J. D. McClatchy

Ellerslie Revisited: Wilder, Wilson, and Proust
Christopher Benfey

Historical Religious Crises in Wilder’s Early Novels
Christopher Wheatley

Vis Comica-on-the-Lake: The Chicago Roots of Thornton Wilder’s Concept of Comedy
Arvid F. Sponberg

Omniscience and the Fixer in Wilder’s Novels
Scott Donaldson

Thornton Wilder’s Midwest: Heaven’s My Destination and The Eighth Day
Nancy Bunge

Major Plays
The Outsider: Contextualizing Simon Stimson in Our Town
Kenneth Elliott

Wearing Down “The Edge of Boldness”: Wilder’s Evolving Values and Stagecraft in the Three Published Versions and Prompt Script of Our Town
Park Bucker

No Time Like the Present: Wilder’s Plays and Buddhist Thought and Time
Anne Fletcher

To The American Clock by The Skin of Our Teeth: Arthur Miller’s Debt to Thornton Wilder 189
Susan C. W. Abbotson

Wilder and Ibsen: The Three Texts of A Doll’s House
David Hammond

Lady Bountiful’s Farcical Turn Through Middleton, Farquhar, Wilder, and Ludwig
Anne F. Widmayer

“The Great Mill-Wheel” of Time: Thornton Wilder and Paul Hindemith’s Collaboration on The Long Christmas Dinner Opera
Janie Caves McCauley

Lesser-Known Works
Hitchcock and Wilder: Writing and Rewriting Shadow of a Doubt
Max Alvarez

The Alcestiad: Wilder and the “Incommensurability of Things Human and Divine”
Mary C. English

“Carving Some Cherry Stones”: Disparities in The Angel That Troubled the Waters and Other Plays
Edyta Oczkowicz

The View from Abroad
The Early Critical Reception of Thornton Wilder in Italy
Dianna Pickens

The Japanese Reception of Our Town in 1941: Premodernism and Thornton Wilder
Hachiya Mizutani

“It’s Been the Dream of My Life to See Paris”: The Pleasures and Challenges of Translating Our Town into French
Julie Vatain

Theophilus North and the Traditions of Ancient Chinese Allegory
Hansong Dan

Afterword: Man in a Chair
Will Eno



Bryer, Jackson R. and Lincoln Konkle, eds. Thornton Wilder: New Perspectives. Northwestern University Press, 2013.